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11 best guitar picks 2021: our expert choice of the best plectrums for acoustic, electric and bass

The 11 best pedalboards 2021: top choice pedalboards for guitarists
(Image credit: Future)

The humble guitar pick is an essential part of most guitarists' arsenal, yet it's often overlooked. Simply changing which plectrum you use can have a drastic change on the tone you produce, not to mention your playing style. We've put some of the best guitar picks for electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass guitar to the test to help find the ideal fit for you. 

You'll also find handy buying advice on everything from shape, size and material, so you can make an informed decision on what the best guitar pick is for you.

Best guitar picks: MusicRadar’s Choice

Ultimately there is no rule when choosing which plectrum is right for you, it's a personal preference. With that being said, we can give you general pointers. For acoustic players, or if you find yourself strumming a lot, we recommend the classic Dunlop Nylon Standard plectrum. This durable pick comes in many gauges (.38, .46, .60, .73, .88, 1.0MM), but we suggest starting with the .60 as it's not too thick, not too thin. 

For more general uses, then you can't go wrong with the Dunlop Tortex Standard plectrum. These are the most popular plectrums in the world for a good reason. They offer a balanced tone and comfortable grip. 

We would recommend trying Gravity picks for the more advanced player looking for something a little different. These acrylic plectrums offer superb durability and a bright, articulate sound. They range in size from 1.5mm to 3.0mm, so you'll be sure to find one to fit your needs.

Best guitar picks: Product guide

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Tortex Standard Plectrum

1. Dunlop Tortex Standard Plectrum

The original remains one of the best

Price: $6/£4.99 per pack of 12

Colour coded 
Lots of different gauges 
None

First intended as a replacement for tortoiseshell (hence the tortoise design) Tortex picks were launched way back in 1981. Their durability, flexibility and bright attack have ensured they remain the industry standard today. Dunlop’s colour-coding system makes it easy to find replacements for your preferred gauge, which range from .50mm (red) up to 1.14mm (purple).

Best guitar picks: Fender 551 Shape Classic Celluloid

2. Fender 551 Shape Classic Celluloid

Warmer tone and wider surface area

Price: $5.99/£4.89 per pack of 12

Traditional tortoiseshell look 
Warm tone 
Not ideal for strummers 

Fender makes a surprisingly wide range of picks in a host of sizes, shapes and thicknesses, but the majority make use of celluloid. This material provides a warmer tone than many other pick types. The 551 takes Fender’s traditional 451 shape and serves up a wider body and sharper tip, making it great for rapid-fire single-note licks.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Nylon Jazz III Guitar Pick

3. Dunlop Nylon Jazz III Guitar Pick

The classic choice for jazz players

Price: $4.65/£3.99 per pack of six

Perfect for fast players 
Very durable
Small size not for everyone 

The clue is in the name with this long-standing classic: a small profile, quick-release moulded edge and sharp tip provide the agility to see the Jazz III through the speediest of runs with ultimate precision. Two versions are available: the warm-sounding Red Nylon or brighter, sharper response of the Black Stiffo.

Best guitar picks: D'Addario DuraGrip

4. D’Addario DuraGrip

Additional grip and enhanced click

Price: $10/£7.90 per pack of 10

Added grip
Enhanced durability
Bright tone not everyone's cup of tea

The DuraGrip design, from guitar string and accessory giant D’Addario, is made from Duralin, which promises to highlight the bright ‘click’ of the pick hitting the string, whether that’s playing chords on acoustic, laying down speedy single-note runs on electric or hitting a bass hard. Add in a stamped grip design, enhanced durability and choice of seven different gauges, and the DuraGrip is worth picking up. It’s available in Wide, Jazz, Sharp and Standard shapes.

Best guitar picks: Dava Control Picks

5. Dava Control Picks

Light and heavy gauges in one pick

Price: $4.64/£5.49 per pack of five

Two picks in one 
Can be a little awkward to use 

Guitar players usually have to make the choice between lighter-gauge picks for strumming and heavier gauges for single-note picking, but Dava allows guitarists to possess both in a single pick - depending on where you hold them across the Control Region, Control Picks can provide a soft or hard response. There’s a choice of three materials, too: Delrin, Nylon and Gels.

Best guitar picks: Gravity Picks

6. Gravity Picks

A great choice for shredders and anyone after a brighter tone

Price: $5.99/£3.99 each

Extremely durable
Very comfortable
Some people might not like the added brightness

An acrylic construction affords Gravity Picks a different sound and feel to a lot of other plectrums on the market. Besides offering increased grip for your fingers, they seem to ‘glide’ across the strings - great for string skipping and sweeping - and deliver a brighter tone to boot. 1,000s of variations are available, and you can easily order customised versions, too. Sizes range from 1.5mm to 3.0mm.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Nylon Standard Plectrum

7. Dunlop Nylon Standard Plectrum

The best light-gauge pick for acoustic players

Price: $6.06/£4.99 per pack of 12

Perfect for acoustic players 
Comes in a variety of gauges 
Not ideal for heavier players 

Players continue to swear by Dunlop’s Nylon Standards, which are known for their warm tone and durability. If you’re after a lighter-than-normal gauge, this is the best place to look: Nylons start at a seriously wobbly .38mm and .46mm, and go up to 1.0mm. They’re a handy tool to have in your arsenal for recording textures and delicate acoustic strumming.

Best guitar picks: Ernie Ball Prodigy Picks

8. Ernie Ball Prodigy Picks

The best pick for shredders

Price: $9.99/£10.49 per pack of six

Enhanced grip
Designed for speed players 
The shape can take a while to get used to 

Ernie Ball brands these ‘high performance’ picks, and it’s easy to see why: made out of Delrin for enhanced grippage, Prodigy Picks boast a machined bevelled edge and sharp point to aid speedy playing techniques by reducing drag and enhancing articulation and control. That makes them a sound choice for shred and metal players. They’re available in 1.5mm and 2.0mm gauges, in standard and mini formats.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Tortex Flow

9. Dunlop Tortex Flow

A familiar tone with modified geometry for faster playing styles

Price: $6.06/£6.69 per pack of 12

Great if you want to try a new shape 
Enhances speed 
Not for strumming 

This new take on an old favourite gives the beloved Tortex series a bevelled-edge makeover. Sharp edges and a wide angle provide the gliding movement that made Dunlop’s existing Flow picks a hit with shredders such as Andy James and John Petrucci, but here they’re paired with the traditional Tortex material for an altogether snappier response. They’re available in gauges from .50mm to 1.5mm.

Best guitar picks: Graph Tech TUSQ Guitar Picks

10. Graph Tech TUSQ Guitar Picks

Eke more tones out of your guitar with these versatile plectrums

Price: $5.95/£5.99 per pack of six

Unique sound 
No Elephants were harmed in the making of these picks 
Sound might not be for everyone 

You’ve probably heard of TUSQ - it’s the man-made ivory substitute that’s used in a lot of nuts and bridges. Graph Tech has also crafted picks out of the material, with a unique twist. There are three different ‘tones’ of TUSQ Pick (bright, warm and deep) in three different sizes (teardrop, standard and bi angle), each of which affects the sound that comes out of your guitar. The picks are also comfortable and hardwearing - and they make a satisfying sound when you drop ’em on a hard surface, too.

Best guitar picks: ChickenPicks Badazz III

(Image credit: ChickenPicks)

11. ChickenPicks Badazz III

The best plectrum for sheer versatility

Price: $8.95/£6.83 per pack of two

Very durable 
Ideal for shredders 
Large size can be difficult to get used to 

With a name like ChickenPicks, you'd expect this plectrum to be aimed squarely at country style hybrid playing right? Well, it'll handle that with ease, but this is also a great plectrum for jazz and general shredding. 

The thick, precision-edged Badazz III, crafted from thermosetting plastic, comes from the Tritone III series and is available in 2mm and 2.5mm thickness. This pick is comfortable to use, with a good grip, and is versatile enough to handle everything from rock and jazz to country and metal.

Best guitar picks: Buying advice

Man plays acoustic bass with a guitar pick

(Image credit: Future)

Guitar pick shape 

The shape of a guitar pick has a significant impact on how you play the guitar and should be considered carefully. Ultimately the shape affects the plectrum's surface area and, therefore, how easy it is to transition between the strings on your guitar or bass.

Strummers and acoustic guitar players often gravitate towards a larger pick size. This allows them to strum the strings without worrying about their fingers getting in the way. On the other hand, metal and jazz players often prefer a smaller pointed pick to maximise dexterity and allow them to skip between strings quickly.

Gauge 

Once we have determined a shape, we need to decide on the gauge. The gauge simply refers to the thickness of the pick. The general consensus is that a thinner plectrum is better for rhythm playing or strumming. In contrast, a thicker plectrum is better suited to more detailed picking or even bass playing. 

What are guitar picks made of? 

Finally, of course, there's the material to consider. Traditionally plectrums were made from natural materials and animal byproducts, including bone, tortoiseshell, steel, amber and wood. The first plastic guitar pick was made by D'Andrea way back in 1922, and this would go on to be the blueprint for the plectrums we use today.  

Guitar picks are now primarily made from synthetic materials, including, celluloid, nylon, acrylic, delrin and even glass. Obviously, the material you choose greatly impacts your grip and tone. 

Nylon and celluloid plectrums produce a warm, mellow tone perfect for acoustic guitars and 12-string guitars. Acrylic plectrums offer a brighter, more articulate sound, perfect for lead players. 

If you are looking for a general pick to do a little of everything, Tortex is a good option. These picks are usually very durable and offer an even sound. There is a reason these are by far the most popular plectrums around. 

It is important to remember that these are just guidelines, and there are no hard and fast rules to which is the best guitar pick for you. Experiment and try different things - you never know you may forgo the plectrum altogether and end up using a sixpence, like Brian May!  

Read more: essential accessories

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